One of the great “what-ifs” for automobile historians is the fate of the Tucker.

Brash businessman Preston Tucker saw a chance to jump into the auto business after World War II. He designed a striking car that was quite different from what other American automakers were turning out — with a rear engine, a third headlight and a “crash compartment” that he claimed would save lives.

So compelling was the story that it became the subject of a movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola, “Tucker: The Man and His Dream.”

The dream turned into a nightmare when Tucker got into trouble with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over a stock offering and other business practices. He was tried and found not guilty, but the controversy shut down Tucker Corp. after only 51 cars were produced in 1948.

One of the Tucker cars will go on the auction block Aug. 31, with the proceeds benefiting Mayo Clinic’s cancer research program.

The 1948 Tucker was never finished in the factory, but a collector bought the incomplete vehicle and, using original Tucker parts, assembled the car. Now the collector, Indiana resident John Schuler has donated it to Worldwide Auctioneers, which will sell it at auction in Auburn, Ind., with the proceeds going to Mayo.

Of the 51 Tuckers built by the factory, 47 survive. When one goes up for sale, the price is almost guaranteed to run into seven figures. According to Martyn Donaldson, historian for the Tucker Automobile Club of America, the highest price ever paid for a Tucker at auction is $2.9 million.

This car, while noteworthy and valuable, isn’t expected to bring quite as high a price as a factory-built Tucker. It’s 90% original, Donaldson said, but some parts had to be newly fabricated because they simply didn’t exist.

Donaldson estimated that the car could sell for $800,000 to $1 million.

“The Tucker Club considers it a continuation — a tribute, if you will,” Donaldson said. “But it’s representative of a Tucker ’48 sedan.”

The Tucker saga, Donaldson said, “is a very interesting slice of American automotive history. My interest in these cars has always been the story behind them.”